When “Helping” People is the Wrong Thing to Do


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When “Helping” People is the Wrong Thing to Do

by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, MCC

Recently, a very frustrated client complained, “I did my best to help my team. I gave them a clear vision and shared every bit of knowledge I have around implementing the project. They just don’t get it. We are never going to make our deadlines.”

I knew why she was frustrated: when I was a manager, I, too, had to learn the distinction between serving and fixing others. It wasn’t until I learned how to be a coach that I understood how powerful it could be to quit trying too hard to “help” others.

Helping people by giving them answers can actually stunt their development. You are taking away their ability to think for themselves. They become dependent on you and resign themselves to your authority.

Worse, you deflate their motivation. When your goal is to help people do things “correctly” you are taking the “I know and you don’t” position. You come across as thinking you are better than the people you are helping who have lesser capability, knowledge and strength. As a result, they feel irritated or powerless, not trusted and capable.

Sharing all you know isn’t bad if people are starting new ventures and they know they lack skills and knowledge. They want your help. They may eagerly listen and do what you suggest.

On the other hand, if the people you are trying to help do not see you as the great one with all the knowledge, they won’t hear you. Or, they might see you as informed but want you to acknowledge what they know too. If you don’t engage them in a two-way conversation, their resentment will block your words. They may even retaliate by doing something stupid or doing nothing at all. Then you judge them even more harshly.


Coaching Tip:

First, seek out the perspective and knowledge of the people you are serving to understand what they know. Provide information they are lacking so they can make better decisions. Then ask questions that might broaden their perspective. From here, new ideas and solutions emerge. If necessary, help them explore possible consequences of their ideas. When they come up with plans for action, ask them what particular support they need from you to be successful.

Not only will you establish a better relationship with those you serve, you will also benefit from taking this stance. You’ll feel more tolerant when you aren’t expecting people to do what you say. You’ll feel more compassion when you hear what the person is grappling with in their mind. You’ll enjoy the relationship better as you build mutual respect.

Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, writes, “When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life whole.” Do you see people as broken or whole? They will know how you judge them by your actions.

Seek to serve instead of fix. Life isn’t about your great accomplishments. It’s about being a significant member of a greater community where we are all standing side-by-side doing our best to thrive.


Marcia ReynoldsMarcia Reynolds, PsyD, works with clients worldwide focusing on emotional intelligence and change. She is a Master Certified Coach and a past president of the International Coach Federation. Her website is www.outsmartyourbrain.com.

Contact her at 602-954-9030, Marcia@outsmartyourbrain.com